Monday, June 18, 2018

The Secretaries—Profile Theatre—SW Portland


Photo Credit: David Kinder
The Avenging Angels

This very dark comedy is written by Maureen Angelos, Babs Davy, Dominique Dibbell, Peg Healey and Lisa Kron (The Five Lesbian Brothers) and is directed by Dawn Monique Williams.  It is playing at the Artists Rep’s space, 1515 SW Morrison St., through July 1st.  For more information, go to their site at www.profiletheatre.org or call 503-242-0080.

It is amazing to think that this was written about 25 years before the current Me, Too, movement but it does give you an idea of how far back (and much further) the abuse and disrespect and inequality of women has been going on.  This genre of expression could be ranked with the darkly comic horror films of the 90’s era, such as Motel Hell, The Stepford Wives and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.  And, as demented as you think they are in this story, you root for them all the same (I did).  Go figure….

As the tale goes, there is this lumber camp in Big Bone, OR, where the secretarial staff is totally populated by women.  And the head honcho of them is Susan (Andrea White), a martinet-type of leader on the outside, who runs a tight ship, but does have her odd quirks that you’ll get to know after she cozy’s up to you.  Ands she has her followers among the rabble. 

Her minions consist of the ditzy, Ashley (Kelly Godell), who has the record among the pool of the most “boyfriends,” and is the current secretary of the month, for several weeks running (and she has her prize, a cashmere sweater, to prove it).  Then there is Peaches (Jen Rowe), the effusive, boisterous and over-weight (a no-no, according to club rules) of the pack.  And Dawn (Jamie M. Rea), the outspoken, avowed lesbians of the mob, who takes no prisoners.

Into this motley crew appears the “new-kid-on-the-block,” Patty (Claire Rigsby), who is fresh out of school, naïve, and more than a little susceptible to any outrageous influences, in which there are aplenty in this outfit.  Of course, she must immediately be taken under their wings (or, in this case, maybe talons) and educated as to what’s important in this Life-style, such as to garner a lumberman’s jacket, to control your weight through a rigid diet, to abstain from sex, obey the rules of the club and have an accident-free environment…well, not so much, perhaps, in this category.

How this all comes together, I cannot tell you without giving away secrets, but it’s a dozy, trust me.  And, keep in mind, this is definitely not for everyone.  If you enjoyed the films mentions early in this review, then this may be your “type of shake.”  If not, well, consider this a warning.  Williams has garnered a top-notch group of ladies for this whirlwind experience (I can only imagine the rehearsals) and she has kept it moving, with rapid set changes and explosive performances.

This cast is exceptional in the portraying of the complexities of these characters and keeping them within the bounds of believability, just enough so you are sucked into their world, too.  Kudos to all, as these are some of the strongest performances I’ve seen onstage!

I recommend this play but beware that it involves some very adult and explicit material.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

The Maltese Bodkin—Twilight Theater Company—N. Portland


“What Dreams Are Made On”
This mystery spoof is written by David Belke and directed by Sarah Fuller.
  It is playing at their space, 7515 N. Brandon Ave. (off Lombard, parking lot across the street)., through June 24th.  For more information, go to their site at www.twilighttheatercompany.org

In all our lives, there is probably that one elusive, impossible dream we want to achieve, which will make all our desires come true.
  For some, it is that secret place, buried in our imaginations, where all is tranquil…our Shangra-La, El Dorado, Glocamora, Neverland, Brigadoon, et. al.  For others, it is an object that will bring us wealth and power.  Such is the case with the Falcon from Maltese or, in this case, a jeweled dagger, or bodkin, that may hold the self-same power.
The story follows somewhat closely the same one as the classic, film-noir movie, “The Maltese Falcon.”
  And the style is the same with a hard-boiled shamus, Birnam Wood (Paul Roder), who also discovers his partner, Archie, has been killed while working on a case.  The plot is steeped in that genre with narration by the lead character, garbed in the traditional crumpled trench coat (like Columbo), and sloppy hat, who is a hard-drinker, down-on-his-luck, and smokes too much.
But he has his ever-faithful Girl-Friday, Charlotte (Chelsea Read), over-eager, a bit ditzy and smitten over her boss.
  And this is the part where a whole array of femme fatales, mysterious strangers, and nasty critters crawl out of the woodwork.  And, ‘tis true, but these role models step out of the scenery from 1600 Shakespearean England (no explanations as to how these two genres come to be together, so just go with the flow).
But, being that times are hard, he takes on a case that may solve the death of his partner, as well as retrieving the fabled jeweled bodkin/dagger.
  And, of course, an alluring woman, Viola (Lura Longmire) turns his head, as he finds out that Archie was working for her and she is also searching for her long-lost brother, Sebastian (Skye McLaren Walton).  But he will need help with this quest, so he searches the slums, via his sotted buddy, Falstaff (Stan Yeend), with his main squeeze, Mistress Quickly (Christina Taft), and also scours royal society, through his good friend, Donalbain (Chris Murphy).
Meanwhile, to muddy the waters even more, he is stalked by a sneaky villain, Iago (Samuel Alexander Hawkins), and approached by the helpful, Mercutio (Blaine Vincent III), both desirous of the famed dagger.
  But Wood knows there is someone more powerful behind all this and that the disappearance of the brother, and the jeweled dagger, are somehow connected with his friend’s death.  Really can’t tell you more without spoiling the mystery but know that the author does know his film noir, as well as Shakespeare, and blends the two genres successfully for the most part.
The cast of nine really does quite a good job of portraying, in some cases, as many as three characters.
  There is a very amusing Monty Python type of repartee between R&G (from “Hamlet”) from Vincent & Hawkins, a deliciously droll Richard III from Murph and a super incarnation of the ‘40s sleuth from Roder.  Fuller has done well with her casting and manages to keep the play moving at a very brisk pace.  All in all, a complicated thriller with a huge nod to Willy S. and pot-boiler mysteries, presented by a very talented cast.
I recommend this play.
  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

Friday, June 8, 2018

Broken Bone Bathtub—N. Portland area


“The Kindness of Strangers”
This one-woman show, written by and featuring Siobhan O’Loughlin and produced locally by Jesse Braeuninger.
  It is playing in various homes of local individuals in their bathrooms for an audience of 4-8 people through June 18th.  For more information, go to their site at www.brokenbonebathtub.com

This is more of a group therapy session than a “traditional” play but, all directors/producers /actors know that creating a play with actors often results in psychological aspects of the character being examined, as well as one’s own psyche, so this process is just being extended, in a way, to present company, the audience, an intimate gathering, in an intimate atmosphere.
 
And where would an individual be the most intimate and vulnerable?
 Probably in a bathroom or bedroom, stripped of all perceived perceptions.  And, under what circumstances?  Sex, of course, but also after an injury or during an illness, as one’s guards are often down.  And, so we have the bathtub, complete with water, and only suds between us, and a and a lady with a broken hand.
She will, in part, during the next hour, relate to you how this came to be and how she felt it changed her life and led her to this venue.
  But her purpose is far more astute than that.  She tells of her early friendships with other girls/friends and the experiences with group events, such as a type of whip-cream melee.  Obviously, the fun, freedom and intimacy during those times generated a peace within the “savage beast” of a human…and inhibitions be damned.
As she got older and grew up in the NYC area, she felt that biking was the most convenient mode of transportation, and thus, a part of this accident, with her now sporting an injured hand, was a result.
  But the story is only the catalyst for the real purpose of this exercise.  She discovered, while infirmed, that she needed the help of others to some of the simplest, daily routines, like bathing.  And, through this quest for a solution, she embarked on a remarkable journey that has had far-reaching effects, albeit in just small groups at a time, in over 5 countries and 300 performances!
I don’t want to give too much away, as that might be considered a spoiler, but will say that only about half the time you are there, are you listening to her story.
  As she relates her experience, she discovered the fact that she needed others to help her. So, she asks the small gathering assembled, of their experiences with such things as crying in public, being compassionate, giving hugs, relating unpleasant news to a loved one, etc., as she found out, through her own, personal experiences, that we need each other to survive.  “No Man is an Island.”
And what she encouraged the audience to relate is quite amazing.
  They all related very personal accounts of their experiences.  And why is that?  Because you are in an intimate setting with someone more vulnerable than you and with strangers that you’ll probably never see again.  And the secret ingredient for this studious mix of mis-matched spices?  Ms. O’Loughlin herself, as she gently stirs the pot for the most unique taste ever, an excellent chef is she!
Make no mistake about it, this is an event, an experience, possibly a new wave of the first order, which will merge people into dialogues, like she does, and we will come out with a better understanding of others.
  As the song goes, “what the World needs now, is Love, sweet Love, something there’s just too little of.”  And it starts with a small band of brothers and sisters, like this, and hopefully will spread like a tidal wave over the face of the Earth!
O’Loughlin is onto something.
  She comes across as personable, candid, understanding, and able to deal, through dialogue, with any “blue meanies” that invade her/our space.  I wanted to reach out by the end and give her a hug and say she touched me.  You can’t help but fall in love with her and lovable is a good trait to have in this unsettled day and age.  (By the way, Siobhan, the tear-jerker I love with Robert Downey, Jr. is called “Heart and Soul,” worth seeing.

I highly recommend this show but it will only seat, depending on the location, a maximum of 8 people, so best get your tickets now.
  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill—The Armory at PCS—Pearl District


‘Round Midnight
This musical tribute & history of the great Blues/Jazz singer, Billie Holiday (Deidrie Henry), is written by Lanie Robertson and directed by Bill Fennelly.
  It is playing at their space, 128 NW 11th Ave, through July 1st.  For more information, go to their site at www.pcs.org.
The magic hour when shadows invade the senses, memories recur in full, fierce force and music & song is in the hands of royalty—Billie Holiday (Henry)!
  It is unclear as to why such icons of the entertainment/creative worlds feel the need of a “boost” to guide them along.  Many of the greats were involved with drugs, alcohol, battled with insanity and had less than stellar childhoods.  Such was Holiday, a jazzy blues singer whose candle burnt out some 60 years ago.  But this, perhaps, her last appearance, is in South Philly, a town who she has a love/hate relationship with.
She tells of her childhood and her beloved Mom, the “Duchess;” her sexual abuse at the age of 10; of her first real love, the abusive, Sonny; her addictions; her love of music and performing; her relationship with the understanding Artie Shaw and his band of white musicians; and one special occasion when she encountered a club with no toilets for black females and how she remedied that situation (priceless).

Most of Holiday’s favorites are here (but not listed in the program).
  Some of them that I got were “Crazy,” “Baby Doll,” “Easy Livin,’” “Strange Fruit,” and “God Bless the Children.”  Her vocal range slides easily from ballads, to brassy, to mournful and to the upbeat.  One thing you knew for sure, she lived all these songs…and her stories.
And she’s not alone up there.
  She brought along her special guest, Pepe, who helps her through the darkness.  And, of course, there was her ever-lovin’, Jimmy (Abdul Hamid Royal), the piano-man; on drums, Charles Neal and on Bass, James H. Leary (replacing the recently departed, well-known Bass player, Andre St. James).  And they were all terrific!
Fennelly has assembled the perfect cast for this!
  And kudos to Scenic Designer, Michael Schweikardt, it is amazing.  And Henry is following in the shoes of Audra MacDonald (Broadway) and Diana Ross (film, “Lady Sings the Blues”).  But she matches them every step of the way for this is not just someone doing her songs but who embodies the role in her monologues, as she relates her horrific past both in acting and singing.  She does justice to Holiday, who would have been impressed, too, I believe!

I recommend this show, especially for Henry.
  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

Fallout—Imago Theatre—SE Portland


“Tomorrow Is Another Day (?)”
This original production is written, directed and designed by Carol Triffle.
  It is playing at their space, 17 SE 8th Ave. (off Burnside), through June 9th.  For more information, go to their site at www.imagotheatre.com or call 503-231-9581.
Where will you be when (not if, according to today’s international climate) the Big One hits?
  When I was but a young lad in the 50’s, this was a very real possibility then and so some families and public buildings and schools were busy building bomb shelters.  It was a strange new world that a youngster was being reared in then, as it is again today.  “When will we ever learn?”
And, in the case of this event, we have a young man, Bobby (Kyle Delamarter), who has evidently decided to jump the gun and simply live in a shelter now, so that he is always prepared.
  He greets his morning light, at the beginning of the day, like a new-borne reaching for the sun.
The down-side is that he can never go top-side, as it just might be the last day.
  And he has no friends that he has invited down here, so he’s a bit of a recluse, playing songs for a audience of one, keeping holy his drawings of his long-dead idols from the entertainment media of years past, creating imaginary situations and dialogues with an invisible lady, sleeping a lot and keeping a diary…and “lets the world slide.”
But a loner for himself is not to be.
  For suddenly the outside world intrudes itself upon him, as two women discover the hatch, by accident, to his domain, as he scuttles away under his bed.  Jackie (Anne Sorce) is the leader of this intrepid duo and wants to explore.  Nadine (Danielle Vermette) is the more skittish of the two and seems afraid of her own shadow.  More discoveries will abound as secret longings and relationships will be revealed, as the three of them must grapple with Fate.  More I cannot tell you without being a spoiler.
But the exciting part of Imago’s shows are not so much the stories but the presentations and execution, as they are replete with dance-like movements, music, and language interpretations and imagery that appear like it might come from an alternate universe.
  This hour-long production also explores the real life problems we are faced with and becomes a sign-post of things to come if we do learn to get along. Triffle has done a fine job of blending these worlds together. 
I also like the original music/songs that were conceived for this show by Triffle and Delamarter.
  And the performances by all three were quirky, unpredictable and totally consistent with the framework for the story.
I recommend this play.
  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

I and You—Artists Rep.—SW Portland


Celebrate Yourself

   This compelling story of love is written by Lauren Gunderson and directed by JoAnn Johnson.  It is playing at Artists Rep., 1515 SW Morrison St., through June 17th.  For more information, go to their site at www.artistsrep.org  

     What are the components for Love?  Poets, writers, philosophers and religions have been grappling with that question for ages.  No definitive answer, of course.  But Walt Whitman, with his long poetic essay on Life, “Leaves of Grass,” with his songs to himself, does contend that, before loving someone else, a person must first love themselves then, I assume, they are capable of giving and receiving love to/from others.  This is a love story then, focusing on Whitman and his words and, in the end result, they connect with these novice lovers in a most unique way.

     Caroline (Emily Eisele) is a solitary teen, living much of her life trapped in her bedroom, as she has always been a sickly child and had to content herself with her own world of arts and crafts, and music and the internet.  She does have friends, of sorts, in her cat, Bitter, her photographs, and her pet turtle, whose shell glows in the dark, like the distant stars.  She, like her turtle, has formed a hard shell to keep out the trappings of the outside world, but is very vulnerable underneath. 
  
     Caroline relies on the electronic world to keep her informed, is in love with rock and roll, especially Jerry Lewis Lewis and Elvis and even texts her Mom downstairs when she wants something, rather than risking a trip into the outer, darker chambers beneath, preferring her familiar, more colorful, world at the top of the stairs.  But this world is about to be shattered with the arrival of another young student, Anthony (Blake Stone), who says he is her project partner on creating a display and speech on the writer, Walt Whitman, for their American Lit. class, even though she does her assignments via the electronic medium.

     Anthony is a bit more subdued than she, likes sports and is a lover of Jazz, especially Coltrane and plays the Sax.  Their worlds tear at each other but seem to reach an uneasy truce when delving into Whitman’s words.  They are truly opposites in so many ways…and yet….?  The interplay between them is priceless and the conclusion is something you won’t see coming.  In short, you’ll have to experience it for yourselves and, I guarantee, you won’t be disappointed.

     Gunderson is an amazing writer, as she teases you along what you think might be a familiar path, then turns the tables on you, as to where it ends up, but realizing that it really does all connect, like a giant, jig-saw puzzle.  Johnson has carefully chosen and modulated the cast and their performances, so that both humor and tears are brought out, letting us know that this is untested territory.  She is also a fine actor in her own right, so knows the journey that creators must travel to master a character.

     The set, by Tim Stapleton, is a wonder, all bright, Spring-like colors, mish-mashed across the walls, “like bits of a shattered rainbow.”  And the actors, Stone and Eisele, are perfect for their parts.  They go through many changes in moods through the story and are very believable in each of these incarnations.  I couldn’t imagine anyone else in these roles.

     I highly recommend this play.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.
--DJS

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Left Hook—Vanport Mosaic—N. Portland


Fight Club
This powerful family drama is written by Rich Rubin and directed by Damaris Webb.
  It is playing at the Interstate Firehouse Cultural Center, 5340 N. Interstate Ave., through June 10th.  They also have a very interesting Surge of Social Change Gallery Exhibit upstairs, detailing a lot of history of this area.  For more information, go to their site at www.vanportmosaic.org

I welcome this “old-fashion” type of story-telling, which centers around social situations in a naturalistic way.
  It reminds me of the plays of the 30’s-50’s which usually had beginnings, middles and ends and resolved situations on a realistic level.  The setting is boxing training center and is in the North Portland area (with a very cool boxing ring supplied by Oregon Children’s Theatre).  Also, “left hook,” as I understand it, was the blow that downed Ali by Fraser, implying to always keep your guard up for the unexpected.
Ty (Jasper Howard) is the owner of this Club, inherited from his father, in North Portland during the 70’s.
  He is mostly a tough, no-nonsense sort of guy who only has one student at present, Donnie (James Bowen II), a nice kid but a bit naïve to the ways of the world.  Ty seems to be not only training him for a fight in the ring but the much bigger battle of Life in the Arena outside.
Ty’s friend is Bo (Anthony P. Armstrong), a garbage man, who has encountered more than just the refuse of the street, but Life/reality itself in this ever-changing City.
  Cal (Kenneth Dembo) is Ty’s uncle and keeps reminding him, when he gets too big for his britches, that he use to change his diapers, so not to get too pushy.  He is an outspoken activist of the changes going on in the community, not for the good of African-Americans, either, and seems much in favor of the Black  Movements coming into being in the 70’s.
Ty also has a daughter in high school, Ava (Tonea Lolin), who has taken a liking to Donnie, threatening the wrath of her father.
  But her mother, and Ty’s ex-wife, Mae (Shareen Jacobs), is not opposed to her “testing her wings.”  But it seems all their lives are going to be displaced, as the City has been expanding with a sports/entertainment center, then a freeway and now, a hospital growing outward, and it always seems to be the African-Americans that must deal with the brunt of these changes.  How the family turmoil all turns out, you’ll just have to see for yourself.  But people that have been oppressed all their lives, do have the ability to pick up the pieces and start anew with a greater resolve!
The author certainly has a way in his writing of making his story personal and yet universal as well.
  And the director has complimented his vision with her great eye for casting, as well as using the stage and the ring to the story’s advantage.  She also does a fine job of choreography of the boxing maneuvers, giving a sense of a rhythmic dance.  All very well done.
And each of the actors are very specific in their creations, all believable and natural.
  I especially liked Ty’s delivery of his “rage speech,” as he talks about war and killing.  I recommend this production.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Crossing—Crave Theatre—SE Portland




         
Sarah McGregor and Jessica Tidd
Photo by Russell J. Young
Shadow Creatures
    
 This haunting drama is written by Reza de Wet and directed by Sarah Andrews.  It is playing at the Shoebox theatre, 2110 SE 10TH Ave., through June 3rd.  For more information, go to their site at www.cravetheatre.com
   




     On the surface, this is a story about two, weird sisters, Hermien (Sarah McGregor), the boss of the family, and her timid, sheltered, hunchback sibling, Sussie (Jessica Tidd), who live in an ancient house on the banks of a river.

     On one night they are visited by a mezmerizing showman, Maestro (David Mitchum Brown), who claims to be a hypnotist, who proclaims he can transport you to other times and places.  With him is Ezmerelda (Kylie Jennifer Rose), his “assistant,” who cowers at his feet and appears to have been psychologically and physically abused.  The sisters offer refuge to this couple and hear the strange tale of their travels.

But the house and all these people hold secrets.  There are unearthly factors at work here.  Old houses, night terrors, thunder and lightning, noises in the dark and some unholy magic are a perfect combination for nightmares.  As I said, the above is only the surface story, for you must see it, if you dare, and not alone, to discover the mystery that it holds!

     This is a very creepy story that will keep you spellbound from beginning to end.  Max Ward has created a set that keeps the audience feeling as if they are in the framework of the house, peeping in on things that are better left unsaid.  The creators of the lighting effects, Nia Fillo and sound, Andrew Bray, are to be commended, too, for this is as much an atmospheric  production as it is about story and dialogue.  Kudos also to the Stage Manager, Michael Cavazos and Technical Director, Iain Chester, for blending all these elements to maximum effect.

     And the cast of four, especially the ladies, are some of the best actors in this area.  McGregor is sinister, stern and strangely compelling as she attempts to hold her family together. Tidd is always excellent in all she performs and is equally good here as the sister whose soul and sanity seem to be in peril.  Rose is at her best here as a woman/child torn between, perhaps, “the devil and the deep blue sea.”  A tormented spirit who will not be quieted.  And Brown, very effective as the master manipulator, who may have met his match in these ladies. Bravos to all!

     And the best for last, Andrews, who must combine all these elements into a worthy stew for digestion and she does it masterfully!  She and Rose have created a young company, Crave, and they are certainly on firm footing with this outing.  It is original in its concept and they prove they can handle the technical and acting aspects to the nth degree as well.  Much power and success to them, they deserve it!

       If you do choose to see it, -please tell them Dennis sent you. I highly recommend this production.
--DJS

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Cabaret—FUSE Theatre Ensemble—SE Portland




“…It was the Worst of Times”


     This classic musical has tunes by John Kander, lyrics by Fred Ebb and book by Joe Masteroff, and is based on Christopher Isherwood’s short novel, “Berlin Diaries,” and the play, “I Am A Camera,” by John Van Druten.  It is directed and designed by Rusty Tennant, musical direction by Matt Insley (also keyboard), and choreography by Kate Mura.  

     It is playing at the Funhouse Lounge, 2432 SE 11th Ave. (street parking only), through June 2nd.  This is part of the OUTwright Theatre Festival.  For more information, go to their site at www.boxofficetickets.com or rusty.fuse@gmail.com

     When down and out, what do you do, “put on a happy face.”  There was a definite glumness to Germany in the 1930’s, as their world was about to change forever.  And when the sense of Doom seemed eminent, there is only one thing to do, pretend everything is all right and dance, sing and be merry.  But can you really make “a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.”  Of course not.  But, until you’re discovered to be a fraud, might as well put on airs and treat Life like a giant Masquerade Ball, where everybody pretends to be something they’re not and you put your best mask on, and soar….

     The main body of action follows Cliff (Alec Cameron Lugo), a very naive American, wanting to write the great American novel, who lands in Berlin at the inopportune time that Hitler is moving into politics and the Nazis are beginning to strong-arm the German people, especially the Jewish population, into their own obscene brand of a totalitarian government.  But, being an innocent, a lamb in a wolf’s den, he is vulnerable which, for a budding writer, may be a good thing.
He connects with a young German “salesman,” Ernst (Michael J. Teufel), who desires to learn English, befriends him and introduces Cliff to life at the Kit Kat Club, a type of underground amusement parlor, where anything, and anyone, can be available, for a price.  The oily owner of the Club, Max, is bedding down with his star attraction, the alluring, Sally Bowles (Gwendolyn Duffy), a popular belter of racy tunes and maudlin lyrics.  But the one who runs the show, is the Emcee (Ernie Lijoi), the musical narrator/commentator of the Cabaret lifestyle, in which everyone has their roles to play.

     Cliff is housed into one of the boarding houses near the club, in which Sally Bowles is also a resident.  The owner of the establishment is the fastidious, Fraulein Schneider (Dmae Roberts), who has a romantic relationship with one of her boarders, a Jewish fruit vendor, the kindly, Herr Schultz (Glenn Williams).  Also, in residence, is the naughty, Fraulein Kost (Sara Fay Goldman), who has hot-and-cold running sailors in and out of her room.  Love will make its mark with the golden-agers, as well as with Cliff and Sally and, under normal circumstances, there would be happy endings. 

     But this is not the time nor place for that.  Smuggling, corruption, decadence, prejudice and cruelty are the orders of the day here.  Their world is held up to a mirror, broken several times in many places.  This mock world will trample the good, make demi-gods of the bad, and reflect the ugliness of a not-too-distant time and place of yesteryear.  And, perhaps, we should heed this warning nowadays, if we haven’t solved the mistakes of the past, we are bound to repeat them.  If we can’t work together, we are then doomed to fall separately.

     Although the play could be considered a bit of a downer story-wise, it does reflect well of a by-gone era.  And the songs from this musical are outstanding, both in writing and delivery.  The chorus numbers with the gals and guys are expertly delivered and well thought out by Mura. The Emcee (Lijoi) is a chameleon and is always outstanding in his numbers.  Duffy, as Sally, is amazing, as she is both very sexy and very sad at the same time.  And her final solo, “Cabaret,” is as chilling as it is heart-breaking, it raised the hairs on the back of my neck.  Hope to see more of her onstage. 

     Some top numbers were, “Don’t Tell Mama,” “Two Ladies,” “Sitting Pretty,” “If You Could See Her (the ape acrobatics are stunning)” and, of course, “Cabaret,” are painfully exciting.  The frightening but beautiful, “Tomorrow Belongs to Me,” by Goldman, is always a show-stopper.  And Roberts and Williams are touching as the doomed, old couple with their hopeful ballads in a forlorn setting.   Also, Lugo, as our hero, has the right, wide-eyed stare, like a deer caught in someone’s headlights, who will have his eyes opened but his heart broken.  Well done.

     Tennant has wisely set this story in a real-life bar and it works wonderfully in creating the proper mood for the story.  He has also, with Mura, used the tiny stage to great advantage, even bringing the action into the house at time.  And Insley and his band (Cameron Poehner and Andy Schanz) do justice to the rousing score without overpowering the actors. This is a raw show and does have some nudity in it.  I highly recommend it.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.
--DJS

Monday, May 14, 2018

Blithe Spirit—Bag & Baggage—Hillsboro, OR




Spirit of the Idle Rich

     This classic comedy by Noel Coward is directed by Scott Palmer (B&B’s Artistic Director).  It is playing at their space in The Vault Theatre, 350 E. Main St., in Hillsboro, through May 27th.  For more information, go to their site at www.bagnbaggage.org  or call 503-345-9590.

     If you’ve ever wondered whether the grass was greener on the other side of the fence, this play may give you a glimpse, in a farcical sort of way.  Suggestion of a job, with these sort of people, is only mentioned in passing and then only as a sort of necessary evil.  If one is forced to pursue such a “hobby” such as, in this case, a doctor or writer, it is only because of the high fees they can collect among their clients…er, patients, and the gossip that can be attained.  And, of course, in these worlds, the woman’s job was simply to look pretty, be seen at swanky affairs and be at the beck-and-call of their husbands.  A patriarchal society, to say the least.  Far removed from that now, aren’t we?!

     A note about the presentation.  This is a highly-stylized show that in Coward’s day would have been the “cat’s meow.”  It is more in the line of Moliere than Simon, in that it is a series of repartees and one-liners that are not meant to reflect the “real” world, but one in which satire rules supreme.  The emphasis then is not so much on story or naturalistic style, but on witty verbal exchanges.  But, in this case, there is also a pretty cool plot underneath, which is why Coward rises to the top of his class.

     Charles (Andrew Beck) is a somewhat successful mystery writer.   He lives in only the poshest of neighborhoods in the most elegant of estates.  He is egotistical, smarmy and aloof.  His second wife, Ruth (Cassie Greer), is even more conceited and snippy and rules her exclusive domain with an iron paw.  Pity the maid, Edith (Arianne Jacques), who is so eager to please, she rushes about the homestead with bunny-steps in a precise, military fashion.

     On this particular evening, Charles has decided that he needs some more fodder for his novel involving the occult and has arranged a séance with his friends, the stoic, Dr. Bradman (Peter Schuyler) and his giddy wife (Jessica Geffen).  And the focal guest for this historic/hysteric evening is the eccentric, Madame Arcati (Kymberli Colbourne), with a voice like a foghorn and a appearance like a football fullback, a take-charge sort of lady.

     Well, they do have some laughs, imbibe in alcohol and do, in the long run, raise one hell-of-a-spirit, in the guise of Charles’ first wife, the ever-demanding, Elvira (Jessi Walters), who insists she has been summoned, presumably by Charles.   One can only imagine the sort of turmoil this will raise.  Complications arise, confrontations befall and confusion reigns, before all is resolved, sort of.  Can’t tell you more without spoiling the plot, so you’ll just have to indulge yourself.
 Palmer has done an outstanding job of casting this play and choreographed it like a dance, as well as keeping the dialogue coming fast and furious.  The clever lighting effects (Jim Ricks-White), the period costumes (Melissa Heller) and the lovely set (Tyler Buswell), all add to the success of the show.  (Interesting to note, the name of this company is uttered in this play).

     Beck is a good, slipping into Coward’s skin (who it was written for) in his never-flustered portrayal of Charles.  Greer has, perhaps, the most precise, clipped speech pattern of the cast, as the steel-backboned, Ruth.  Walters is an appropriately “flighty” Elvira, who is on a mission, not necessarily from God.  And Schuyler is properly stone-faced as the doctor.

     And some small gems exist in Geffen, who is always first-rate in a play, as the ditzy chameleon, who can change her colors, as needed, for a harridan of the first order.  She shines.  Also, Jacques, takes the spotlight, as needed, as the harassed maid, who has a secret.  Her movements are spot-on.  And Colbourne is the crowning glory, as the cigar-chomping, whip-crackin’ showman, who takes no prisoners.  She’s a firecracker who lights up the stage!

I recommend this production.  If you do choose to see it, please tell then Dennis sent you.
--DJS

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Fences—Portland Playhouse—NE Portland





Ole Blue, Shadows and Substance

     This powerful August Wilson drama is directed by Lou Bellamy.  It is playing at their site, 602 NE Prescott St. (free parking lot two blocks North on 6th), through June 10th.  For more information, go to their site at www.portlandplayhouse.org or call 503-488-5822.

     Thoreau famously said that we lead lives of “quiet desperation,” and so it is here.  But we all don’t have a Walden Pond to escape to, as he did, where one can sort things out.  But, if inner demons eat at you and the Past haunts you, then no amount of solace will save you.  So, Troy, stifled by his dreams, the only way out is to keep swinging, lashing out until the final inning, when the horn is blown, and the game is over, and your score is tallied as to wins and losses.

     Troy (Lester Purry), a middle-aged man in Philly in about the mid-fifties, seems to have a tiger by its tail, but who is wagging whom.  He is a failed baseball player who earns a living by picking up garbage for the Sanitation Dept.  His best friend for many years, Bono (Bryant Bentley), works along beside him.  Their daily routine after work consists of having a snort, bragging about their prowess with women and heading down to the local dive for checkers or to watch “the game.”

     Rose (Erika LaVonn) is his ever-faithful, strong-willed wife, who tolerates his excesses and loves him all the more, all these many years.  Cory (La’ Tevin Alexander) is their teenage son on the verge of getting a football scholarship to college but shirks his duties at home.  One of which is to help his Dad build a fence around their house, which seems to be a never-ending project.

     Troy also has a son, Lyons (Seth Rue), from a former marriage, who is a jazz musician at nights in clubs which, according to Troy, is not a “real” job but a distraction.  And then there is Gabriel (Bobby Bermea), Troy’s mentally-challenged brother, having a steel plate in his head from a war injury.  Gab has his own unique way of dealing with the world and has his horn at the ready to announce the end of the world, when his buddy, St. Peter, gives him the signal.

     This is the cast, shy one character, Raynell (Imani Hill or Serelle Strickland, alternating the role) a little girl who will appear near the end.  The stage is set, the spring wound tight for the conflicts, confrontations and confessions of these struggling, wounded souls in their mini-America.  Here there be roars from this Pride and echoes from it that may spell a better tomorrows.  Really can’t tell you more, as Wilson’s masterful storytelling style and explosive dialogue does it so much better.

     Bellamy is the perfect choice for director, having known Wilson himself and having played Troy, too.  His use and balance of the characters on the stage, as well as his intimate understanding of the material, shows to powerful advantage in this production, as it teeters between all out rages then, when the storm is quelled, lulls you in the quieter moments.  A master directing a masterpiece!

     The set (designer, Daniel Meeker, a veteran of many productions) is so realistic, you feel you could walk upon it and be transported back in time.  The cast is the best I’ve seen in the many Wilson plays I have witnessed.  Standing out among the best is Bermea, always exceptional in any theatre project he undertakes, as the troubled brother, balancing beautifully humor with sadness; LaVonn, as the dutiful wife, who matches Troy expertly in power when maligned; and Purry, as the focus character, who is a true anti-hero, that you despise, feel sorry for and empathized with, often at the same time.  A crowning performance among many Royalty!

I highly recommend this production, it’s not to be missed, as it’s one of the finest in the NW.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.
--DJS

Monday, May 7, 2018

The Sensational Sixties—Portland Musical Theater Company—N. Portland




Remembering the 60’s

     This Broadway revue of musicals from the 60’s is conceived and directed by Deanna Maio (PMTC’s Artistic Director and Founder) and choreographed by Kayla Banks, Megan Ruth Smith and Maio.  It is playing at the Peninsula Odd Fellows Lodge, 4834 N. Lombard St. (St. John’s area), through May 20th (street parking only).  For more information, go to their site at www.portlandmusicaltheatercompany.org

     It is said that “if you remember the sixties, you weren’t there!”  But, get serious, music was so much a part of that era that, really, who could forget the folk and protest songs which have been ingrained into the American persona ever since then.  And Broadway, with its plethora of great musicals, is no exception.  It was “a very good [decade],” as evidenced by these 35 songs, by 8 people in about 2 hours.  Wow!

     So, turn off those damn electronic devices for a short time (believe me, you’ll survive) and let your memory be your guide into the sounds of a neverland of by-gone lore and new-found dreams, which reflect, not only the Age, but the soul of a Nation, searching for the shining American Dream (somewhat tarnished in recent months), but still there in our Youth.

     And so, it was, with Russian Jews in, “Fiddler on the Roof,” looking for that better world; also, with the “Man of La Mancha,” who fought windmills in order to make a land free and a woman restored to her true self; or, “The Fantasticks,” where young love is taught a harsh lesson about Love; and “Camelot,” an attempt to join all kingdoms into ruling equally around a Round Table, treat women with respect and use “Might For Right.”  It seems we are still fighting those battles.

     And who could forget the great characters from that era, all based, in part, on true people or incidents:  The waif, “Oliver,” from the pen of Dickens, a lad who sees a better world for himself; also, “Sweet Charity,” another discarded soul, who loves too often but not wisely, and will live “hopefully ever after;” or the crazy teens from “Bye Bye Birdie,” who experience the angst of growing up; and the disillusioned and despairing folks of “Cabaret,” who found their world collapsing around them, with nowhere to go.  Change is not easy but necessary in many cases.

     And who could forget Auntie “Mame,” the lady who fought the system to be herself but at a price; and, of course, we have the irascible, incorrigible Dolly Levi from “Hello Dolly,” another unstoppable Force of Nature.  And then we are given a tour of comedy, going back thousands of years in, perhaps, the non-stop, funniest musical ever on Broadway, “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.”  And then we are given a dose of thoughtful, frightening reality of the Viet-Nam era, “Hair,” notions that still haunt us even today.

     Then we are treated to such show-stopping numbers as, “Brother of Man,” from “How to Succeed…;” “What Kind of Fool Am I?” (Aidan Nolan, I believe) and “Who Can I Turn To?” (John D’Aversa, I believe) expertly sung, both from Anthony Newley’s haunting, “Stop the World…;” and the best of the best, the crowning glory, Deanna Maio’s, “Don’t Rain On My Parade” from “Funny Girl” (it gave me chills).  Watch for her to perform as Rosemary Clooney next year in “Tenderly.”  Also, another showstopper was Rebecca Raccanelli playing the violin solo from “Fiddler….”  She also is frequently in these revues and always a treat to watch.

     Ehren Schwiebert was also very accomplished in his singing and very expressive as an actor.  I don’t mean to slight the last three ladies but they looked so similar onstage and in their photos, which didn’t seem current, that I really couldn’t tell with any certainty who was who, but they were excellent (Ashley Moore, Becca McDonell and Caitriona Johnston).  Also, high praise should go to Smith with her choreography of the “Rhythm of Life” number.  This blend of voices is some of the best I’ve heard and do add high merit to this Revue!

     I highly recommend this production.  If you do see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.
--DJS

Sunday, May 6, 2018

A Year With Frog & Toad—Oregon’s Children’s Theatre—downtown Portland

photo by Owen Carey
Best Friends Are Forever

     This delightful musical is based on books by Arnold Lobel, music by Robert Reale and book and lyrics by Willie Reale.  It is directed by Dani Baldwin (OCT’s Education Director), musical direction by Jeffery Childs and choreography by Sara Mishler Martins and is playing at the Newmark Theatre, 1111 SW Broadway, through May 27th.  For more information, go to their site at www.octc.org

     This was a winner of 7 Drammy’s when first presented, well deserved, too.  At it’s heart, it’s about friendship, compassion, and the importance of working together to solve things (a lesson the world should heed now).  But it’s also about giving to another person unconditionally, never expecting anything in return.  And, if you’ve experienced this, isn’t it amazing how good it makes you feel!

     The story is deceptively simple, it follows the pretty routine lives of Frog (Charles Grant) and Toad (James Sharinghousen, reprising his role from the original production) through the four seasons.  Of course, everybody knows that many animals hibernate during the long, cold Winter months, so when they arise, they are full of life and fun.  The squirrels (Lauren Burton & Katie McClanan), in particular, like to keep things moving along in this forest primeval.

     We follow these two intrepid travelers through the seasons, as they rake leaves, go sledding together, bake cookies and in, perhaps, their longest segment, tell scary stories on a stormy night (not recommended if you spook easily).  Frog tells of when he was a child (Sophia Takla) and how he and his parents (Megan Carver & Colin Kane) got lost in the woods and how he overcame the Large and Terrible Frog that haunted the forest.  It is a good lesson in overcoming one’s fears.

     There are other creatures that inhabit this acreage, too, such as birds, moles, a turtle, a lizard, and a snail (Kane, again) in the longest running gag in the show, as he attempts to deliver a letter at at “snail’s pace.”.  The songs are plentiful and very catchy.  And the music/dance/song genres are all over the map, including ballet, soft-shoe, jazz, opera, country, ballads, et. al. and very well executed by an exceptionally, versatile cast!  Also, interesting to note that at curtain call, when only seven actors came out to take their well-deserved kudos, I wondered where the rest of the cast was.  They were so good in playing separate characters that they fooled me into thinking it was a larger ensemble!  Bravo!

     Everyone of them deserves mentioning:  Carver has an operatic voice and it shows to good advantage as Mother Frog; Takla is great as Young Frog, both in acting and singing; Burton & McClanan are terrific as the duo who keep the story moving and are a vaudeville team in themselves; Kane is a delight with his songs of a snail mailman, wanting to “come out of his shell;” and Sharinghousen & Grant are an amazing team, as they dance and sing their ways into your heart!

     Everything works, as the costumes by Sarah Gahagan enhances but doesn’t hide the actors talents; the set by Tal Sanders is very versatile and effective; Childs music is very progressive, as he traverses the various genres; Martins dance numbers are stunning; and Baldwin is a powerhouse as the director for all of this.  She always shines when working with students and directing a play.  If you have her at the helm, it automatically spells success!

     And that brings me to another related point.  It may “take a village to raise a child,” but there is still a chief of that village to maneuver things around.  A play starts with a story from a writer, then is adapted for another medium; then a producing team must raise the finances and market the show; a cast is assembled, which showcases the whole experience to the public; talents are procured to create the atmosphere for the play (and, in the case of a musical--songs, music and dances are conceived for the show; and finally a Director (the “Chief”) must blend all these elements into a cohesive production (in this case, Baldwin).  So, when it comes time for kudos, although behind the scenes, the Director will rise or fall on their contribution and leadership and, if successful, they are “chiefly” responsible for the outcome, and so should be recognized for that!

     I highly recommend this show as it is a gem, as it was a few seasons back.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.
--DJS

Saturday, May 5, 2018

To Fly Again—Imago Theatre—SE Portland



A New World [Dis]order


    This original production is written, designed, choreographed and directed by Jerry Mouawad and is playing at their space, 17 SE 8th Ave. (just off Burnside) through May 12th.  (Parking is a challenge in this area, so plan your time accordingly.  For more information, go to their site at www.imagotheatre.com or call 503-231-9581.

     “In Dreams, [she flies]…in Dreams, [she flies]…but only in her Dreams.”  It is a place and setting in an alternate universe, a place out of time…and space…disjointed…at the apex of the Alpha and the Omega, not unlike, perhaps Beckett’s “…Godot” world.  It is inhabited by Stink-Bomb (Mark Mullaney), one of the “unwashed masses;” Tater (Stephanie Woods), a virgin bud; Bob Jake Ottosen), a stick-in-the-mud; and Togo (Nathaniel Holder), the maestro of the tunes that “soothe the savage beasts.”   Together, these Clowns, form a coven, of sorts, in a desert, from which, in time, will spring an Oasis, or so we hope.

     But, for now, they are on the verge of…well, they do have memories, which are fleeting, of another existence, but now that existence has disappeared and they are left with…???  A do-over, perhaps, or maybe, like a broken record, or squeaky wheel, someone will come (again?), to silence the whining, like the shining black man in the white beard, who will get tired of the repetition and rhetoric and will rewind the toys, these fish out of water…perhaps.  Otherwise, left to their own devices, what will they do…what can they do…what possible…impossible…conclusions?  Ah, but “to sleep, perchance to dream”…of…???  A fragment of a song occurs to me…

     “Send in the clowns, there have to be clowns…don’t bother, they’re here!”  (think about it). 
     
     Just one problem, there are those pesky dancers/floaters, the non-thinkers, the mutes, the lemmings, who dance, dare I say, fly.  What to make of them?  Left over from the Old World Order who ruled at one time, maybe with the Clowns?  But everybody should march to their own beat, their own drummer, and when those drummers/dreamers meet, connect, merge…then a new day may evolve!

     Is this a review?  Yes, it is, in the sense that any true artist worth his metal, will spill his talent across a broad canvas and induce/dare, perhaps, seekers and let them glean what they choose, as does Mouawad.  He dips his pen into his heart and writes in blood, not ink….and, as it flows outward, other views may come into focus.  Beckett famously said, when asked who Godot was, he replied that he had forgotten, and said to the questioner, who is he to you?  And so it is with this piece of Art.  What does it mean to you…no right or wrong answers, really, just absorb it.

     As always, he has created something entirely unique and thought(soul)-provoking.  And I loved the tree and his choice of music for the production.  Wish I could accurately credit the actors, but no names were attributed to the main ensemble of actors, via characters.   But the two ladies that stood out for me are Stephanie Woods, who was “Tater” and she is wonderful.  She really connected with the audience (and with me, my heart went out to her character’s plight).  Hope to see more of her onstage.  Also, her counter-part , the drummer of the dancers, Amy Katrina Bryan (I believe), was also invested in her role and was notable in her performance.

     The rest of the cast of Dancers were Nathan HG, Kaician Kitko, Andrea Larreta and Emma Holland.  All excellent and I apologize if I got names confused.  A really fine show by all concerned.  I recommend this play.  Please tell them Dennis sent you if you choose to see it.
--DJS    

Friday, May 4, 2018

The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey –Triangle Productions!—NE Portland




The Measure of a Man

     This dark comedy is written by James Lecense and directed by Donald Horn.  It is playing at their space in The Sanctuary, 1785 NE Sandy Blvd. (free parking lot to the West of the building) through May 26th.  For more information, go to their site at www.trianglepro.org or call 503-239-5919.

     It is said that the world exists around contrasts.  If that is so, then an old Mexican adage might be true.  For it says that if the Devil/Evil/Darkness exist, it proves the existence of God/Goodness/Brightness, for that is the counter-balance.  No need for Evil, you see, if there wasn’t Good.  And so, in this tale, we shall meet the Brightness through the lives that Leonard touched.

     Leonard is a teenage boy who happens to be gay in a small community on the Jersey Shore.  He has disappeared and it is up to Detective Chuck DeSantis (Todd Van Voris) to find him.  DeSantis is a throw-back to the old Noir detective, ala Mickey Spillane and his ilk.  His partner, Marty, is also just such an animal, too, preferring a loud voice to announce arrivals, rather than the intercom.  A motley crew, to say the least.

Through DeSantis’s investigation, he will meet those that had connected with Leonard.  There is the brash, brassy, Ellen, his “aunt” and caretaker, and owner of the local beauty salon.  There is her daughter, Phoebe, equally outspoken and won’t take crap from anybody.  They have a sort of love/hate relationship with the boy.  Then we have Buddy, the head of the drama school where Leonard attended and who was set to play Ariel in “The Tempest.”  Buddy has had previous run-ins with the law.

Another “upstanding” citizen of this community is Gloria, wife of the late mob boss, who ruled the underworld with an iron fist.  She claims not to have seen anything of note but does have two, big ears and hears a lot.   In contrast (see how this theory works) Marion is a bird-watcher and sees all sorts of things, including, perhaps, some things she shouldn’t.  Otto is a German watchmaker of the old school and has no use for this new electronic age, as he feels there is no art to it (he and I concur on that level).  He and leonard would chat and read stories to each other at times after his classes.  And Travis is one of the bullies that would beat up on Leonard regularly, just because he was different.

     All friends of Leonard’s, in odd ways, perhaps, and, of course, also suspects.  And, one more thing, which rises this play to another level, Van Voris plays all the characters!  And, besides the community, there are also the clues, which range from his backpack and one sneaker, some fairy wings he made, to a money clip his mother gave him, et. al.  Of course, I’m not going to give away the ending, that would be cheating, like reading the last page of a mystery (oh, you do that, too, shame on us).

     But the purpose of this story is not really about the mystery itself but, as mentioned, about contrasts, about how we are all inner-connected, and how one person, who dares to live his life the way he chooses, despite obstacles and opposition, can waylay the fears in ourselves to rise to a higher level.  Also, as Attis Finch, in the compelling novel, “To Kill a Mockingbird ”says, that sometimes you have to get inside of another person and walk around in his skin for awhile to see other points of view.  And so, may Leonard’s “brightness” rub off on all of us!

     Van Voris is extraordinary, as he always is in everything he does onstage.  The secret to playing an assortment of characters on the boards is to keep it simple but clean.  With only some essential props, a change in posture and voice and, perhaps, a costume piece, one actor can create a universe on an essentially bare stage.  The purest form of theatre may be storytelling, so an actor in such a situation must assume that posture.  Van Voris is just such an actor and is at the top of his game here.  Long may he reign!

     Horn, with some subtle but clever lighting changes for mood and setting (designer, Trevor Sargent) has created another intriguing play that both entertains and educates…the best of all worlds!  And, if you’re lucky enough to chat with him about Portland’s theatre history, you are indeed blessed, as he is a wealth of information, as well as having an array of books in his library for sale of related subjects.  Also, if you have info on the early days of Portland’s artistic history, you might want to contact him.
I highly recommend this show, especially for Van Voris.  

     If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.